B?rk! B?rk! Swedish Chef Sings Opera to Microsoft

Norwegian browser maker Opera Software Friday enlisted the aid of the Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef to cook up a little payback against Microsoft for alleged sleights against Opera users.

Opera, which two weeks ago said Microsoft was feeding Opera users a faulty style sheet when they visited the MSN Web site, has created a special version of its Opera 7 for Windows browser, the Bork edition, which is nearly identical to the normal version of Opera except when the user visits the MSN site. The Bork edition transforms the MSN site into the language of the Swedish Chef.

“Hergee berger snooger bork,” said Mary Lambert, product line manager desktop, for Opera Software. “This is a joke. However, we are trying to make an important point. The MSN site is sending Opera users what appear to be intentionally distorted pages. The Bork edition illustrates how browsers could also distort content, as the Bork edition does. The real point here is that the success of the Web depends on software and Web site developers behaving well and rising above corporate rivalry.”

Opera has documented the problem which was causing MSN to appear distorted on Opera browsers, pinpointing a faulty style sheet sent out by MSN as the culprit. Opera showed that MSN was sending different style sheets to Microsoft Internet Explorer and Opera browsers, despite the fact that the style sheet sent to IE would have allowed MSN to render normally if sent to an Opera browser.

A screenshot supplied by Opera shows how the faulty style sheet distorted the pages in Opera, causing users to believe that something was wrong with their Opera browsers.

“When trying to access MSN.com using the Opera 7 browser, there are two visible problems,” Opera Chief Technology Officer Hakon Wium Lie wrote in the documentation. “First, for the user it looks like Opera 7 has a serious flaw so that many lines are partially hidden. Second, the page shows less content than users of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer see.”

In an attempt to prove that MSN was specially targeting Opera, Lie changed the User-Agent string — which tells Web pages what type of browser is requesting information — of an Opera browser to read “Oprah,” a non-existent browser. The “Oprah” browser returned the same style sheet as IE 6.0 received and rendered the page correctly, not terribly surprising as most sites default to IE if they can’t identify a browser. Lie also changed the User-Agent string of an IE browser to read Opera, and that browser fetched a faulty style sheet which rendered the page incorrectly.

While Microsoft denied that it was deliberately trying to disrupt the Web browsing experience of Opera users, the problem was fixed for users of Opera 7 days after Opera posted its documentation on the Web. However, the company said earlier versions of Opera still bring up broken pages on MSN.

“We are working hard to make sure the Opera browser works well on all Web pages, even those that do not follow the Web’s standards to the letter, Lie said. “But it becomes impossible when we are targeted and fed distorted pages that don’t work in any browser. It’s like putting a moose in the blender — a recipe for disaster! Microsoft should clean up their act on MSN and their other Web sites.”

Microsoft has used MSN, one of the most visited sites on the Web, to target third-party browsers in the past. In October 2001, the company locked-out a number of third-party browsers, including Opera, preventing them from reaching the site at all.

Thor Olavsrud is a proud Norwegian.